City council looks to create permanent plan to help homeless - - Columbia, South Carolina

City council looks to create permanent plan to help homeless


Workers from Christ Central Ministries spent the day clearing out and cleaning up city-owned buildings at the far end of Calhoun Street.

Christ Central ran the city's shelter on contract with the city out of the buildings. Since last fall, nearly 1,500 people have stayed in these buildings that were never originally meant to house more than 200 of the area's homeless.

The arrangement with Christ Central helped city leaders buy time to figure out a long-term plan while providing the city with a huge discount, but both the city and Christ Central have learned a lot from it.

"We learned, which we knew already but I'm going to say it anyway to reinforce, that God takes care of you when you take care of the poor," Pastor Kerry Breen said. "We learned that lesson. We saw that lesson. We knew it, but we saw it.

"We saw it in that 90+ churches came out and provided food for the homeless. We saw it in the way that the volunteers of Christ Central lent a hand. A lot can be done when the faith community, the business community, and the city government come together and work together. We learned that that is a powerful collaboration."

City Councilman Cameron Runyan said there are still four "missing pieces" as the city heads toward a more permanent plan to deal with homelessness.

"Number one is we don't have services for sex offenders and the severely mentally ill right now," Runyan began. "That's number one. Number two that we're missing is we don't have a shelter. Shelter is critical for the emergency.

"Number three is you don't have induction and triage anymore. That was the most effective piece of this whole thing. Number four is having a large campus somewhere where you can take folks who are mentally ill, gotten off their medication who needs weeks to get stabilized.

Runyan and Breen believe the city got a real financial break due to Christ Central's links to churches, businesses and volunteers.

They say the operation here could have costs $3 million over that 9-month period. Even with contract extensions, the city paid out far less than a million to the ministry.

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